How to Set Goals with Your Team and Not for Them

Find out how to effectively set and use goals to unite, motivate and reward your team.

by Katherine Spinney, January 22, 2018

With New Year’s resolution season just behind us, many of us are revisiting our goals in our professional lives as well as our personal ones. And while most of us have been well-schooled in how to draft SMART goals, many of our organizations continue to struggle with how to effectively set and use these goals to unite, motivate and reward staff. There are many reasons for this and, thankfully, an easy mindset shift to make it better, a shift from making goals for staff to making goals with them.


According to Gallup, an astonishing 50% of staff do not know what is expected of them at work. Fifty percent. That means, for those who are unaware of the goals they are supposed to be reaching, any success they are achieving is the result of pure chance. Not the most effective strategy I can think of. There is no way we can expect staff to achieve expectations they are not even aware of (though many continue to do so). Instead, it must be crystal clear for everyone involved what  goals are in place on an individual, departmental and organizational level. That way, everyone can understand the vision and direction and how s/he contributes to it. To get there, it requires simple, consistent and constant communication. Make sure everyone has written copies of their goals, understands what they mean and how they contribute to the organization’s vision. Revisit this conversation often. 


I had a staff member who would frequently ask me to send him a copy of his goals. This did not bode well for a number of reasons. For starters, staff should know by heart what it is they are working toward every day. Secondly, in the case where memory is fragile, staff should know exactly where to go to find a list of what presumably guides their work experience. Consistently asking a supervisor is not a great solution. Displaying goals is more than a way not to bother your supervisor, however. Research shows that looking at goals over and over again is a best practice in helping to achieve them. It shows that they are important and that they drive the work. They serve as a reminder of what the focus is. They also show others in the office- clients, stakeholders, board members, etc.- that there is a common vision and that it is accessible to everyone involved. However the logistics of your office work, make sure everyone has visual access. 


In many cases, staff start a new job and are handed a list of goals they have no part in creating. Hopefully, if it was a good hire, the staff and organization will be on the same page regarding the work they are doing, but even still, staff should be centrally involved in setting their own goals for several reasons. For starters, it shows staff that they are an active agent in their own work and professional growth which helps increase accountability. Secondly, it will energize staff to work toward those goals that are most salient to them, creating more buy-in and commitment. Naturally, most of these goals should align precisely with the responsibilities of the position, but they should not be limited to this. Allowing staff to stretch themselves in ways that may not seem to directly involve their everyday tasks may seem unwise, but staff are energized by opportunities to grow in all kinds of ways. Being flexible in providing these types of opportunities shows your staff that you care about their goals as professionals and people, not just who they are in their current positions. This involvement will build trust among your team members and will help make them feel respected and valued. 


I once worked for someone who, every review season, would ask me to send a copy of my goals. Even after doing so, the goals she evaluated me on were not the ones I had been working on all year. This proved problematic for several reasons, but mostly it showed that we were not using goals as a centerpiece of our discussions and work together. As a result, we often worked on different things while heading in different directions. Unsurprisingly it was less than good. For goals to truly be the focus, they must be focused on. Meetings, discussions, supervision sessions, check ins and performance evaluations must all maintain this focus. It not only sends the message that these goals matter, but it ensures that everyone is on track to achieve them. If they are not on track, it allows the opportunity to adjust what is not working and get there. Waiting until the end of the year to determine what was achieved is poor planning and poor strategy.  


When staff do not achieve goals, this can be the result of any number of factors. Unfortunately, managers are quick to assign blame to the staff without understanding what is really going on. Certainly, there will be cases where employees are simply not doing their jobs, but in most situations, this will be the result of a lack of knowledge, skill or resources. As a supervisor, it is your responsibility to ensure that your staff has everything they need to achieve what they are expected to achieve. Often this is a case of functioning technology, a quiet space to work, or a proper budget. In other cases, additional training and/or coaching may be necessary to get staff the skills and knowledge they need to perform as expected. Whatever it is, make sure they have what they need to achieve success. If that is not possible, adjust the expectation to a more realistic one and make sure that staff is never blamed or punished for items outside of their control.


In the fast-paced working world, many organizations make the mistake of moving from one goal to the next without taking any time to recognize the accomplishment of the first. If good work and success are not recognized, staff will lose motivation and morale. Instead, goal progress and achievement are natural and important opportunities to recognize staff for their good work and to unite team members. As progress is being made, visible indicators can help build momentum. Think of the colored-in thermometer. There are countless creative ways to do this, but the premise is the same- collectively contributing to a greater goal and celebrating the progress along the way. This recognition shows staff that you are grateful for the work being done and that recognizing it is an important value of the organization.

As you begin another working year, I encourage you to take this opportunity to review the goals you have in place for yourself, your team and your organization and ask yourself:

  • Is everyone on the same page about what goals are in place and how to get there?
  • Am I providing what my staff needs to achieve their goals?
  • Am I recognizing and rewarding my staff for their progress?
  • Am I involving staff in setting their own goals?
  • How will I celebrate when goals are achieved?

May your 2018 be a year filled with growth and learning and lots of celebration of all the good work to come!

Katherine Spinney has spent her entire career working to improve the lives of others. Educated at the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Katherine has earned Master's degrees in both teaching and social work. She has worked in diverse environments from urban to rural to suburban as well as four years living and working overseas. With extensive experience in the public and non-profit sectors, Katherine has been in management for nearly a decade. She has combined her experience, education and passion to create Katherine Spinney Coaching LLC in order to support others on their own professional journeys.

This article was originally posted on Katherine Spinney Coaching. You can read more articles by Katherine Spinney on her blog, follow her on Twitter here or get in touch directly here